“I want to be your lover, not your husband,” Holmes said, taking Vivienne’s hand to his lips and kissing it. They were sitting in the bathtub in their new house, wine glasses to the side, a candle flickering on the ledge, casting haphazard shadows against the white tiles. Seconds ago, they had been speaking about their wedding day, which had gone from a day of planned celebration to a great escape which had seen them both run away from the altar, run away from a life of married mundanity.
It had been almost six months since they’d left their guests waiting for a show of domesticity that never delivered. It was an adventure typical of them, and marriage would not have suited them, but lately Vivienne had been thinking about the meaning of family and she had come to the conclusion that, were they to approach the altar again, she would not back down this time. The wedding had been before the phantom pregnancy, which had left in its wake emotions that were among the most real she’d ever felt. Not that Vivienne wanted to get married – she just didn’t not want to. She had what she wanted – there was no doubt they were a family in their own, far from nuclear, way. And Sherlock Holmes stating his desire to be a lover was both funny and comforting. His long fingers wrapped around her hand in his unintentionally imperious way, making her feel simultaneously like a wild thing to be pinned down, and an object of reverence – or perhaps those things, to him, were one and the same. The truth was, she didn’t care much for titles as long as she had what she needed. Which she did – of course she did. Vivienne had always needed to belong and she belonged here: one of a couple of offbeat misanthropes who understood each other as much as they opposed each other.
“That’s enough for me,” she admitted. The Dutch have a word untranslatable to English – ‘gezellig’. Holmes and their life together were gezellig – cosy, comfortable, wine-filled. They were like two bits of gnarled kindling sharing the glow of one flame which, probably, would be what burnt them out in the end, but one which lit up things which had long been in shadow and made them golden. “Your lips are soft,” she said, more a thought out loud than anything else. Turning around to face her, Holmes kissed Vivienne’s cheek and she, smiling, brought her hand down to brush his side in delicate, lazy strokes, her fingertips overjoyed to find his skin reacted bristly to them.
They were naked, but nudity to them had long stopped being a context for self-consciousness. At the beginning, nudity had never even meant sex – only warmth. Holmes had approached intimacy without the neuroses one adopts through an adolescence-long preoccupation with it. He had simply never been preoccupied with it and a body was nothing but a body to him until the moment they had taken that step into the sexual, and he had learnt over months and months that her body (and, to him, hers alone) was more than a body. Still, they had promised they’d be honest, and nudity was only a manifestation of that. There was no sucking in of a stomach, no posturing to make arms more defined or legs longer. They were what they were: two complete tomes of leather-bound flaws.
For Vivienne, it had been a journey in reverse. She came to the relationship world-weary, with hang-ups and perversions, having to learn that a body was not a toy, but a body. Learning her way to innocence. And so, one from the starting line and the other from the finish, they had met comfortably in the middle. It was no coincidence that they bathed each other, each delivering the other to the middle, to tabula rasa.
“You should kiss me,” she said. “I taste like Merlot.”
“You taste like sin,” Holmes said, cupping her face with his hands and kissing her mouth.
“And you always know what to say.” Intermittent words. Intermittent kisses. He tasted like wine and salt, and kissed the way she’d shown him but, with time, kissing less like a scientist and more like a lover – which was, after all, what he wanted to be. She snuck a long sip of wine as he put his lips on her neck, closing her eyes when he nuzzled into that sweet spot right under her ear. They lived in the middle, where he knew where to kiss, and she knew where to touch, and where the patterns of his breathing were as familiar to her as the frantic bragging of her heart was to him.
Of course, there was always room for surprises.
“I think we should definitely fuck,” he rasped, and for a moment, breath eluded her.
“Yes, you absolutely always know what to say.”
“Bed. Vivienne, bed,” he was almost whining and her spine tingled at the idea that a man so coolly calm could burn so quickly.
Dripping water all over the floor, they found their way into bed and into each other. The thing about sleeping with him, she thought, was that even though they had had more than a year of it, he still always approached it with wide eyes. And although she would not admit it, the idea that he was hers – exclusively hers, not tarnished by previous women but virginal and new to this – turned her on. It wasn’t an intellectual impulse at all; quite the opposite, it was a visceral sort of jealousy. She wished she could give him the same, but Vivienne had belonged to many others. Sometimes, this made her sad, but then he had found other ways of possessing her. And the kisses never relented.
One palm clamped over her mouth, the other pressed up against the headboard, he moved against her movements, “having” her, as was his delicate way of putting it. Neither of them ever fell prey to the delusion that sex was a transcendental act; it was what it was, and what it was was pleasure – a slow, fumbling numbing and heightening of the senses. It was a selfish act, but one of shared selfishness, losing the self in the other. All Vin heard was his breathing and her hand’s own careless attempt to grasp at /anything/, a handful of the sheets, knuckles turning white until her whole being was an expletive and her body succumbed to its inevitable conclusion. And then, a sort of static, like a channel out of transmission, synapses transmitting everything and nothing, a weakening of useless muscles and limbs.
They fell into a honey-sleep almost immediately, their hair still wet, soaking the pillows, and their bodies still unsure of what belonged to whom.